A striking memorial to those who flew and those who gave their lives in the Battle of Britain stands on the White Cliffs between Dover and Folkestone at Capel le Ferne. It is an ideal location and one which was all too familiar to both the RAF and the Luftwaffe during that desperate summer of 1940.
Britain Prepares for Invasion
The Battle of Britain was the last major conflict to take place over British soil. In May and early June of 1940, huge quantities of equipment had already been destroyed or abandoned during the Battle for France. The Royal Air Force had already lost 931 aircraft, 453 of which were Hurricanes or Spitfires. Britain, ill prepared for an invasion, was galvanised into action and, on the other side of the Channel, Hitler waited for surrender.
By July, Hitler grew tired of waiting and planned the invasion of Britain. German forces of 60,000 men were to be landed along the coast between Brighton and Folkestone. He planned to commence the invasion on 21st September and expected to have captured the whole of Kent by October 1940.
The Battle for air superiority over the Channel began on 10th July. By August, having suffered many casualties over the sea, the Luftwaffe shifted emphasis and concentrated on mainland radar installations, airfields and aircraft factories. Realising that their objective of achieving air superiority over the South East in four days had failed they again switched the emphasis elsewhere.
On 15th September, the Battle reached its climax when 20 squadrons engaged the German bombers and fighters, downing 60 aircraft and damaging 25; the RAF lost 26. The battered Luftwaffe accepted defeat by the RAF Fighter Command and this victory marked the turning point in the Second World War.
Background to the Memorial
Wing Commander Geoffrey Page DSO OBE DFC served in 56 Squadron. On 12th August 1940, during the height of the Battle, they were scrambled and attacked a formation of Dornier 17 bombers escorted by Me 109s; the KG2 Luftwaffe Squadron outnumbered them by 9 to 1. Geoffrey Page's Hurricane Mk II, P2970 US-X, received several direct hits and, having baled out from the blazing inferno into the Channel a few miles north of Margate, he was eventually rescued. After two years recovering from his horrific injuries under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe, he returned to fly and fight again. He received further injuries when he crash landed his Spitfire close to the bridgehead at Arnhem, which ended his wartime flying.
The Memorial consists of a pilot in a thoughtful mood, gazing out across the Channel, thinking of his friends long overdue on their return, and of his next sortie. He is seated on a sandstone plinth on which are carved all the crests of the squadrons which participated in the Battle. The stone figure is located at the centre of three propellers, each 38 metres long, cut into the chalk cliff and set within a spectacular grassed arena.
An impressive millenium wall, designed, constructed in decorative coloured bricks and donated by students of South Kent College, stands on the north side of the car park, commemorating the battle fought in the skies above Folkestone in 1940.
Visitors to the site at Capel Le Ferne can walk around the arena and contemplate those whose bravery and sacrifice contributed to the saving of our country in her hour of need. There are, on a fine day, stunning views across the Channel over which much of the Battle was fought. At the visitors' centre, Hunting Lodge, light refreshments are available together with an interesting range of souvenir items. There is ample free parking for cars and coaches. Toilet facilities, including those for the disabled, are provided.
Visitors have access to the Memorial at any time but the facilities are open from 1st April until 30th September each year. Hours: 1100 until 5pm daily, but closing time in Autumn is earlier. For further information, telephone the site during their open hours, on 01303 249292 or after hours, 01303 276697.
The nearest station is Folkestone and there is a bus service which covers the one and a half miles to the site. By car, the Memorial is approached from either Dover or Folkestone via the B2011, and is less than 20 minutes away from the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial at RAF Manston.
Money is still needed to maintain the Memorial and donations, which will be greatly appreciated, should be sent to:
Battle of Britain Memorial Trust
Group Captain P Tootal OBE RAF(Retd)
4 The Croft
Tel: 01622 791269
During the battle of Britain, the RAF lost 544 aircrew and many more service and civilian personnel, both British and German, were also killed.
The Friends Of The Few
The Friends of the Few is a new opportunity both to support the work of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust at Capel-le-Ferne and to play a part in ensuring that the heroism of 1940 is never forgotten. Formed on 1 January 2001, The Friends of the Few has the close support and encouragement of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, to which belong most of the surviving airmen who fought the Battle. Malcolm Smith, secretary of the Fighter Association, has joined Capel-le-Ferne Trustees on the working party establishing the Friends organisation. Membership of the Friends costs £25.00 per year for individuals (£10.00 for those under 18) and corporate membership is also available. Members will have privileged access to Veterans at the Memorial Day held at Capel-le-Ferne in July every year (Sunday 7 July in 2002). They will receive their own magazine, '1940', at least once a year, with newsletters at regular intervals. In due course, visits and special offers will also be arranged. As members of the Friends become more involved in its running so they will no doubt develop their own ideas of what needs to be done. The Friends of the Few has been created to pay tribute not only to the airmen of Fighter Command, but to the men and women, military and civilian, who contributed to victory in 1940 in so many ways. This great moment in British history, to Winston Churchill, 'The British people's "Finest Hour", must never be forgotten, even when those who were present are no longer with us.
Further information on the Friends is available from:
Group Captain PatrickTootal OBE RAF (Retd), 4 The Croft, Leybourne, West Malling, Kent ME19 5QD. Tel: 01622 791269 (office hours).